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White Women: What is Our Duty to Dr. King?

Today marks fifty years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

One of the crowning achievements of the Freedom Movement he led was the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that banned discrimination.

Black women and men risked their lives to engage in the Freedom Movement and many of them died violent deaths; were beaten, jailed, lost their jobs, and struggled to support their families because activism takes a lot of time and effort and does not pay.

A handful of white women actively engaged in the Freedom Movement, but the vast majority of white women were neutral or antagonistic to it.

Despite white women’s ambivalence, white congressmen added gender protections to the Civil Rights Act at the last minute.

It wasn’t the feminist movement that got women legal protection from discrimination. It was Dr. King and Black people.

Five decades later, the main beneficiaries of the Civil Rights Act and Affirmative Action policies we did little or nothing to support are us, white women, while Black people continue to face tremendous discrimination and inequality:

If trends continue, median Black household wealth will be zero by 2053, according to a 2017 report.

The racial wealth gap is just the tip of the iceberg- in every way, Black people have worse life outcomes in our society: death at the hands of police, incarceration, housing, health, education, employment.

Yet many white women choose to continue to believe the adverse life outcomes of Black people are due to something being wrong with them, their poor decision making.

Black people suffer in our society not because there is something wrong with them.

Black people suffer because there is something wrong with us.

Our racism, our exclusionary behaviors, microaggressions we inflict.

Where we choose to live and send our kids to school. Who we choose to socialize with.

Who we hire. promote, fire. Who we open doors for.

What we invest in. What we donate to, and volunteer for. What we pay attention to.

How we side with police, guns, and the prison industrial complex.

Who we elect.

Who we believe when we serve on juries.

How we sue when not admitted to the college of our choice.

How we explain to our children that “racism is terrible, Dr. Martin Luther King is awesome, and the reason for racial inequality is that Black people don’t work hard like we do.”

In the last book he wrote, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Dr. King spoke of white people’s resistance to equality:

“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance.

It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.

The reality of substantial investment to assist Negroes into the twentieth century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and genuine school integration, is still a nightmare for all too many white Americans.

These are the deepest causes for contemporary abrasions between the races.

Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook.

He remembers that with each modest advance the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough.

Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.”

Today, as you reflect on Dr. King’s legacy and sacrifice, look yourself in the mirror.

Are you reeducating yourself out of your racial ignorance?

Do you invest in Black communities?

Do you welcome your Black neighbors?

Do you ally with Black people at work?

Do your children attend integrated schools?

Are you as outraged by Stephon Clark and Alton Sterling as Parkland?

Are you supporting Black women running for office, or fatigued and retreated into your privilege?

Are you teaching your children about Dr. King’s dream, while actively living his nightmare?

Today is the day for us to change, my white sisters.

Today is the day to chart a new course for ourselves and our children.

Today is the day we shrug off our role as the number one enforcers of white supremacy and take on our new role, as the number one imploders of white supremacy from within.

It is our duty to do so.

#MLK50 #WhiteFeminism #WhiteSupremacy

Karen Fleshman, Esq. is the founder of Racy Conversations.

Her mission is to inspire the first antiracist generation in the United States. 43% of Millennials are people of color. 47% of Generation Z are people of color.

When we flip 10% of the white people in those generations to antiracism, we will have a majority antiracist generation that will be transformative.

She speaks and cofacilitates workshops on race nationwide and online and contributes to Huffington Post, Moguldom, and The GED Section.

Karen is a cofounder of San Franciscans for Police Accountability and serves on the workgroup overseeing US Department of Justice recommendations on ending bias at SFPD. @fleshmankaren

Founder, Racy Conversations Inspiring the antiracist generation.

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